Defining Shared Values
Today, our nation is in the midst of a health crisis. Americans say they feel unhealthy (physically or mentally) about 6 days per month while one-third of Americans say they suffer from some mental or emotional problem every month--including 10 percent who say their mental health is not good for 14 or more days per month (CDC, 2006). In a study of adverse childhood experiences, children who experience abuse, neglect, and exposure to other traumatic stressors are more at risk for alcoholism and alcohol abuse, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), depression, fetal death, health-related quality of life, illicit drug use, ischemic heart disease (IHD), liver disease, risk for intimate partner violence, multiple sexual partners, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), smoking, suicide attempts, and unintended pregnancies (CDC, 2006). The number of children in the United States who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980 (CDC, 2006), increasing risk factors for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes. According to the American Association for Retired Persons, 4 million Americans turn 50 each year (as cited in DOJ, 2006), and by age 65 more than 88% have at least one chronic health condition (CDC, 2006). Park and recreation professionals are challenged with creating accessible leisure opportunities where 'experience' or 'the fun of it' is the primary goal and health promotion is the secondary or even tertiary goal, but a goal nonetheless. To achieve this goal, inclusion of people of all abilities and backgrounds must become a shared value within the organization.
Shared values within the organization come down to the question, 'What do we believe in?' Individually and collectively, we each hold a core set of beliefs. What are our deeply rooted beliefs? Are our values consistent with our organizational values? Do we know what our organizational values are? And are our actions aligned with our values? Research confirms that organizations with a strong corporate culture based on a foundation of shared values outperform other firms by a huge margin (Kotter & Heskett as cited by Kouzes & Posner, 2002). Why are shared values so important? Recognition of shared values provides people with a common language; tremendous energy is generated when individual, group and organizational values are in synch; commitment, enthusiasm, and drive are intensified: people have reasons for caring about their work (Kouzes & Posner, 2002, p. 78). According to leadership theorists James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, shared values are the internal compasses that enable people to act both independently and interdependently.
Arriving at organizational consensus on shared values is an intricate process. Kouzes and Posner (p. 83) suggest that shared values are the result of listening, appreciating, building consensus, and practicing conflict resolution. Through this process of defining our business, our mission, our customers, and our values, we must ask the question, 'Do we believe that every person, regardless of ability or background, who comes into our facility, should have the equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from the experience that we offer?' While 'equal opportunity to participate and benefit' is a core mandate of both Section 504 and the ADA, it should be a core value for each and every public park and recreation agency, whether federal, state, or local. Accessibility for people with disabilities and universal design for the widest spectrum of users are values that should be accepted as part of the organizational culture. Furthermore, when our values regarding inclusion of people with disabilities are clear, our decisions about accommodations, policy modifications, and barrier removal are so much easier. This is further exemplified when a leader of an agency says, 'We are doing this [making an accessibility improvement or modifying a policy] not because it is the law, but because it is the right thing to do.'